Acting ignorant can teach you a lot!


Humility 101

At one time in my life I had the pleasure of introducing a sophisticated business system I developed for a millionaire entrepreneur. Let’s call this guy “Jimmy”. Jimmy owns a slew of businesses in the south that constantly receive awards for being in the top 100 companies in their respective state. Jimmy is a helicopter pilot with a lunch pad on his primary company. And Jimmy is a polite but assertive self-made businessman. Needless to say, I was a bit intimidated when I first met this guy. However, as soon as the meeting started Jimmy opened up the conversations by saying, “Thank you for coming down here to help me Joe. You and your team are the professionals, please show me how your technology can help me improve my business.”

Wow… I was flabbergasted. Jimmy had built a very successful business without the need of my software. He didn’t need me. At the very least, what I built could simply compliment the magic he already fostered with his empire. Nonetheless, Jimmy was ready to learn. He sat quietly, took notes asked lots of questions and to this day, Jimmy’s business is doing amazing things with the piece of technology I helped them implement. This got me thinking, Jimmy wasn’t afraid to be open about his ignorance with technology. He was vulnerable and open-minded.

First, let me clarify, there is nothing wrong with ignorance. Ignorance is just a lack of knowledge in a particular area. In my opinion, we as a society build little-siloed echo chambers of our own thought. When in reality, there is a lot for us to learn when we surround ourselves with diverse views of thought. I naturally speak a lot. But the more books I read, it becomes abundantly clear how much value can be had if I just “listen” before I want to be listened to.

Sadly, our pride has a tendency to get in our way. When we’re complete novices at something we often don’t mind looking for advice. However, as soon as we start to obtain mastery of our skill, we suddenly stop asking for help. Why is that? Most people are happy to share some of their wisdom, so why stop asking for it now? In this case, acting a little ignorant can go a far way when you are surrounded by smart people.

In the book Intellectuals and Society, the Author Thomas Sowell concludes that many “intellectuals”, ignore or disparage other kinds of knowledge. These other types of knowledge may be far more important to the way society operates. Meanwhile, these same intellectuals recommend actions to fix society’s problems but fail to take other kinds of knowledge into consideration.

Much of the information that enables society to function is not intellectual knowledge; it is what Sowell calls “mundane” knowledge. Think about plumbers, welders, civil engineers, Police etc. Intellectuals may be well versed in a plethora of ideas and theories based off of their formal Ivy League education. But keep in mind, no one person, however smart, can have more than the tiniest portion of relevant information about particular social behaviors and situations. Think about a local city council member, they will know much more about a particular zip code territory than the Governor, who will have thousands of zip codes to manage across the entire state. In this case, the city council members will know the mundane knowledge required to estimate the cost and adversities for a local road expansion. When expanding a local road, it will be economically beneficial to the state, but local residents will lose portions of their yard. There will be unforeseen issues depending on the population and geography. No one Governor of a state can know the entire intersections and citizens of the land they govern. But the town council can act as a Subject Matter Expert for the smaller territory they manage.

One more example, in the book mentioned above, Thomas uses the example of the Titanic. What destroyed it was a lack of “mundane” information. “No doubt those in charge of the Titanic had far more expertise in the many aspects of seafaring than most ordinary people had, but what was crucial in its consequences was the mundane knowledge of where particular icebergs happened to be located on a particular night”.

As an experiment, humble yourself momentarily and reach out to someone who is an expert in their field. Most of the time, I have found, people are more than happy to give a helping hand.

Please watch the video below from Thomas Sowell. One of the most brilliant thinkers of our time.

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